Govt, unions will 'park' public wage dispute during coronavirus outbreak - minister

Senzo Mchunu.
Senzo Mchunu.

Minister of Public Services and Administration Senzo Mchunu told South Africans on Wednesday that unions in the public service were aware of the seriousness of coronavirus outbreak, and agreed not to strike or demonstrate during the lockdown.

Mchunu said government had identified the functions of the public service categorised as "essential" and would continue working through the lockdown period.

He made reference to last week's announcement that essential services would include security, health and personnel to facilitate access to public service amenities. 

Mchunu's remarks come amid ongoing tensions with public service unions, who have thus far maintained that they will go ahead with a day of action if wage talks with the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council fail to produce the desired outcome before 1 April, when the increase referred to in the 2018 wage increase is due to kick in.

Mchunu was addressing South Africans in an inter-ministerial briefing ahead of the state of lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, which will take effect in the early hours of Friday morning (midnight on Thursday). 

Urgent challenge

Mchunu told reporters that it was necessary to "park" any impasse when it came to public service wage negotiations or agreements, as a much more urgent challenge faced government and South African society in general.

"What I am able to say is that organised labour is aware and shares the concern of the coronavirus and contributing in the fight. I haven’t heard any union or anyone in labour making any noise [to the] contrary with regard to coronavirus. We appreciate that we are united in this and we don’t want that to be confused with any other thing," said Mchunu.

Mchunu told reporters during the briefing that after Ramaphosa announced the national disaster earlier this month, the Department of Public Service and Administration did a thorough assessment of which personnel in the public service would constitute essential and critical services.

"Following the declaration of the state of national disaster by the president, the Department of Public Service and Administration issued circular number seven to outline measures for the containment and management of the Covid-19 in the public service, which included the provision of necessary tools to contain the spread of the coronavirus," said Mchunu. 

Mchunu said the department made necessary provisions for the public service to continue operating at national and provincial government levels during the 21-day lockdown.

"As of today, Wednesday, 25 March 2020, as Minister for the Public Service and Administration, I have signed the directive determining provision of critical and essential services required for the effective functioning of the public service during the Covid-19 and the 21-day lockdown," Mchunu said.

Mchunu said while essential service staff continued to report for duty at the frontline of the public service, other staff, including administrative staff in the public service, were expected to report for duty remotely and would be given the tools needed to do so during the lockdown.

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